Last week, Senate Democrats for the second time blocked a vote on a Republican-sponsored resolution disapproving the U.S.-Iran nuclear accord. The outcome was never in doubt given that 42 Democrats had already declared their support for the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama administration — more than enough to deprive Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of the 60 votes needed to bring the measure up for debate, let alone enough to override a promised presidential veto. Under normal circumstances the Senate would now move to other pressing business, such as the looming budget battle that threatens another government shutdown this fall.
But these aren't normal times, and rather than admit defeat Mr. McConnell now wants to force a vote on an amendment that would bar President Barack Obama from lifting economic sanctions against Iran unless Tehran releases American prisoners and recognizes Israel as a state. That would certainly be a deal-breaker, and given the solidity of the Democratic opposition, it too will almost certainly never make it out of the Senate. Mr. McConnell lost this one. Why does he feel the need to relive defeat?
There's a method to this madness, and it all has to do with rallying the GOP's base leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. This is a cynical exercise in pure political theater because the only purpose it serves is to force Democrats to go on the record as supporting the president on an issue Republicans hope to use against them next year.
Meanwhile over in the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner dearly wanted a debate in his chamber that would lead to a swift vote on a resolution disapproving the agreement — a result that was virtually assured given its overwhelming support among Republicans and the backing of at least a dozen Democrats. But Mr. Boehner's plan was hijacked by a conservative faction of GOP lawmakers who insisted the accord was invalid to begin with because the administration had not disclosed a confidential side agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency spelling out details of the inspection regime by international monitors. (The White House has already said it can't give those documents to Congress because it doesn't have them.)
But in order to win the support of his rebellious tea party caucus, Mr. Boehner had to agree instead to hold a vote approving the Iran accord — which obviously could never pass — purely in order to force House Democrats to go on record as supporting a measure Republicans hope will damage them politically once Election Day rolls around. Thus the end result may be that neither the House nor the Senate ends up voting on a resolution disapproving the Iran accord, despite months of bickering and GOP majorities in both chambers. After all the smoke clears, Congress will have absolutely nothing to show for all its efforts to scuttle the Iran deal.
Meanwhile, Republicans aren't using the 90-day window Congress has to approve or disapprove the Iran deal to seek improvements in the areas they think need strengthening or to offer constructive criticism that addresses, for example, how they think the IAEA inspections should be structured or what steps the president should take if Tehran cheats. Instead, it's all hot air and posturing that may make for good TV back home but won't do anything to address real concerns about whether the Iran deal actually makes the country safer.
It's the same tactic Republicans have been using for years with the Affordable Care Act. They've voted to repeal Obamacare dozens of times without once proposing to change it in ways that might make it work better. The Iran accord is a done deal no matter how many times Mr. McConnell calls on Senate Democrats to change their votes or what antics the GOP House majority stages. Republicans have for years been obsessed with unraveling what President Obama sees as his singular domestic policy achievement, and now they're looking just as obsessed with knocking down what he hopes will be his most important foreign policy accomplishment. Congress could play a constructive role in either, but Republicans are too keen on erasing the president's legacy to do what's in the country's interests today.